In 12 days, I turn 60. It appears that most of the ink I spill these days is shadowed and/or highlighted by this fact. The good news today is that the old dog can still learn new tricks. If I were certain that my energy and ability to learn new things would stay constant in the future, turning 60 would be a non-starter.
Learning curves are alive and well this week: 2 performance bungles and 1 painful realization, all resulting in the following “lessons.”
I: My performance of ArtTalks last week: No minute by minute review here, just a few lessons from Chapter One of Theater Performance:
- It was too cold in the gallery for anyone to feel relaxed. If audience members and/or performers are shivering, this is a problem. Just like being hungry or thirsty, these factors interfere with our ability to take in anything with subtlety or nuance. Wanting to crawl under our warm comforter or imagining a burger and fries definitely interferes with our ability to take in “art.” If it’s cold in the performance space, just turn on the damn furnace, people!
- I did not have adequate dress rehearsal time and space…my ability to make it work anywhere/anyhow fell on its face. Some key elements in the gallery had changed since my last rehearsal, and I just couldn’t wrap my performance chops around these obstacles. I had arrived early enough (I’m not that stupid), but there were so many organizational activities things going on in the space that I couldn’t focus on my work. Make sure you have a dress rehearsal of sorts.
- Try to gather more than 4 people in the audience. Okay, there were more than four, but I had managed to scrounge up only four of my peeps. Sigh. Once again, I did not pound the virtual pavement, advertising my gig. This is such a huge issue for me—to keep producing my own work, imploring my friends and family to come out and see it, but still, it’s a necessary evil. Suck it up. Get an audience.
- The only way to really “transform a performance into a piece of art” is to be alive and present in the moment, rock solid on the material, so you can let go of the material and play with the live experience. (this is not a new insight, it just flared up like the hot flame that it is) Be rock solid on your material. Don’t fight the medium.
II: I sang Karaoke at a small, cramped, worn down, dark, 80s-feeling bar last weekend. I finally joined a group of pals, who have been doing it for months. A big Fail for me. Now you might think this a bit strange, since I am performer, an amateur singer, and the audience isn’t paying much attention anyway, but woe…I was terrible. Lessons to learn from Karaoke Do’s and Don’ts.
- Don’t sing an old jazz standard piano bar song, no matter how much you want to do this crazy thing someday, no matter how many years you wished you could grab the microphone, gesture to your buddy at the ivories, nod, lean on the piano and sing a few bars of Cry Me a River… (looks just like me, right?, all except my spiky, dark hair and heavy spectacles, blue jeans, tennis shoes and baggy sweater) WRONG. You won’t hear the chords very well, you might never land on the right pitch, be in the wrong key with the wrong notes and not know how to find your way back. No one will know the tune, and they might even be pissed…what the fuck is this?
- Only sing pop tunes, preferably with a dance beat. Sing upbeat tunes that people know, or can shuffle their feet to, so that even if you’re really, really bad, most people have a good time with your selection anyway. It’s not about you, it’s about adding to the party atmosphere. Sing Motown tunes, always good.
- Jump in, and ignore all advice—what the hell? The stakes are nearly 0, and no one will give you or refuse you a gig after a few bars of Karaoke at an anachronistic bar in the suburbs.
III: The realization I had this week is more layered and serious.
Oh oh oh…I get it—my own mother’s deep, deep…I mean, deep desire to be in the same room as her kids. Of course, this is dust on the surface of novel, perhaps. I find myself not wanting my grown kids to leave my little house. I want them to just hang around; I want to feed them lunch, maybe listen to their chatter from the next room, maybe offer up some conversation and “wisdom” of the ages (ha!), play a game of Scrabble, do a puzzle perhaps… This feeling reaches so far down into my cellular pathways, I cannot locate the escape route.
- More lessons learned:Don’t try to stop them from leaving the house. Don’t say, “oh, another thing…” or “what’s your schedule tomorrow?” In fact, lift your chin lightly, be nonchalant, say softly, “ Seeeee ya.”
- Don’t be afraid that it might be the last time you’ll see them. As irrational as this sounds, somehow it creeps down into those pathways. Mother nature at her cruelest, reminding you of the evanescence of it all. Try to ignore it (ha!)
It’s Monday, so I’m off to sit in the same room as my 86 year-old mother for the whole afternoon. I get it.